Bringing artificial intelligence to your B2B company

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Business owners are recognizing artificial intelligence as the way of their future, according to a recent survey of businesses around the world.

In a report authored by Tech Pro Research writer Scott Matteson, 67 percent of Canadian business owners and 63 percent of business owners worldwide feel AI is beneficial to them.

Artificial Intelligence and IT: The Good, The Bad and the Scary also stated that 24 percent of businesses are already using AI, or planning to use it in the next year – and the number is growing. Whether or not they used it, most of those surveyed felt AI will become mainstream within the next decade.

“The majority view (57 percent) was that AI will go mainstream within five to 10 years,” said Matteson. “Few (8 per cent) were optimistic that it could be here as early as 2017, and about the same figure predicted ‘not in my lifetime.’”

The argument for using AI comes down to the reduction of expenses. Fixed costs, a reduced need for analysts and the ability to automate decisions based on past performances are all reasons businesses are moving towards AI. Automation, data analytics and data mining are the most common uses for AI, and it’s a growing trend in the areas of education, telecommunications, personal assistance, customer service, system administration, security, manufacturing and emergency services.

Vancouver-based company Routific, a logistics platform that empowers local delivery businesses to run more efficiently, is a B2B  firm that employs AI.

Marc Kuo co-founded Routific after winning Startup Weekend Vancouver in 2012. Kuo, who completed a thesis on route optimization algorithms several years prior to that, realized that finding the shortest, most fuel efficient path for a multi-stop route could cut waste in the transportation and logistics space.

“Our algorithms can find routes that are up to 40 percent shorter than an experienced human dispatcher,” said Kuo. “If you have to deliver to 1,000 locations with a fleet of 10 vehicles, and you have to consider things like truck capacities and time of delivery, the logistics puzzle becomes extremely complicated. Our customers spend hours every day trying to solve this puzzle. AI can do it in seconds.”

Conversica is a leading provider of AI-driven lead engagement software for marketing, inside sales and sales organizations. Conversica – and Kuo’s Routific – are examples of applied AI, said Conversica senior vice-president and chief marketing officer Carl Landers.

Applied AI is used to solve real problems and “frees us from mundane activity and gives us more time to purse the real human activity that can never be duplicated by the machine,” Landers told B2B News Network.

“Artificial intelligence has finally moved out of the labs of academia and into real-life applications that are benefiting us humans today,” said Landers.

Conversica engages and follows up with leads via natural, two-way email conversations until the lead converts into an opportunity or opts out. If the answer is yes, the virtual assistant connects the qualified lead with a salesperson to carry on the human element of selling, allowing staff to spend more time doing what they do best, leading to more closed business and more revenue, Landers said.

The return on investment in AI is realized in a few different ways, said Landers.

“AI frees up knowledge workers to do strategic thinking, planning, collaborating, inventing, innovating, communicating, writing and creating – all things that are hard for machines,” Landers said.

AI also does what humans would do but better, faster, and more completely, Landers said.

“By this, I mean sticking with a hard problem way past when a human would give up,” he said. “I would put lead follow-up that we do in this category, but also mining insights from large datasets, finding patterns in seemingly random events, analyzing millions of combinations of a problem to yield the most effective results. (It is) hard to measure in direct ROI, but instinctively very valuable to the organization.”

Will this replace humans in a job, which is the most common perceived disadvantage of AI? Not likely, said Landers.

Instead, it liberates people “to do the things that only us humans with our magnificent brains are uniquely able to accomplish,” he said.

Seeing AI as a threat to employment is the main reason that 34 percent of those surveyed admitted that they are afraid of the concept of AI, said Matteson. This fear is especially prevalent in the fields of healthcare, business services/consulting, education and IT/technology.

People still rule!

Humans still have plenty of advantages, Matteson said. AI still doesn’t possess the deep-thinking skills or planning capacity which can replace experienced workers in complex fields. Those surveyed also cited AI’s lack of emotion and intuition and sometimes prohibitive expense for reasons that AI will never completely replace humans in the workforce.

Even with these assurances, B2B owners should be ready to incorporate AI into their businesses, if they haven’t already.

Kuo believes that adopting AI is the only way to stay competitive in this day and age.

“Running your operations more efficiently directly impacts your bottom line,” he said. “Automating your workflow with AI allows you to spend your precious time on the more important tasks. The trend will only continue – it is the natural evolution of the business landscape. Businesses that don’t adopt AI will not be fit to survive.”

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Tracey Tong

Tracey Tong

Tracey Tong is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years in newspapers and communications. She is a former managing editor at Metro News and has contributed stories on business, politics, technology, science, healthcare and the arts to dozens of publications all over North America. The Burlington native currently makes her home in Ottawa. Find her on Twitter @TraceyTong
Tracey Tong

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